BURLINGTON, Mass. — The role that a healthy Gordon Hayward will play next season is a big deal for the Boston Celtics.
But it becomes even more significant with the Celtics being among the teams that got swept up in the sea of change that engulfed the NBA this summer during free agency.
In addition to losing Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn) and Al Horford (Philadelphia), the Celtics traded away Aron Baynes to Phoenix to free up salary cap space, and lost Marcus Morris who signed with the New York Knicks.
“The interesting part of the league is the drama that happens every offseason,” Hayward told reporters following the Boston Celtics and Arbella Insurance Home Makeover Program. “I don’t know if there’s any league like that, where you have major guys moving teams.”
But the talk around these parts centers heavily on Irving, who left Boston despite back in October proclaiming he would re-sign with the Celtics.
Hayward, who has the same birthday (March 23) as Irving, said the Celtics would miss Irving’s talent for sure.
“I wish him the best of luck as he goes to Brooklyn. As a team we’re excited about who we have coming in,” said Hayward, who was commenting publicly for the first time since Irving's decision to not re-sign with Boston. “I’m more than excited to welcome Kemba (Walker) and Enes (Kanter), and all the other guys that are new for us.”
Hayward has been a regular at the Celtics practice facility this summer and has been pleasantly surprised to see the Celtic newcomers in regular attendance.
But as good as they may look, Hayward knows all too well that success for Boston this season will hinge heavily on his play as well as his four teammates — Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart — who are currently bonding down under in Australia as part of Team USA.
“That’s really cool for us to have four guys on the team, to represent the US,” Hayward said. “For sure, early stages for some bonding and chemistry building. I hope they bring back the gold.”
Hayward was on the list of participants last year to be part of Team USA, but he said his focus this offseason has been on working out in Boston in preparation for next season.
“I wanted to just stay here, have a whole summer where I could train,” Hayward said. “Try to get myself feeling pretty good.”
As much as this summer has been about building up his body, Hayward admits it has also been good boost to his confidence, too.
“More than anything, just building back some confidence; being able to do everything that I’m used to doing,” he said. “Reps is what gives you confidence, being able to do things over and over and over and not worry about how my ankle is feeling or having to be cautious with it, has been really good for my confidence.”
The addition of Walker and Kanter along with the continued growth of Tatum and Brown will certainly bode well for Boston’s chances at success this year.
But for them to have a special season, one in which they defy the odds and finish at or near the top of the NBA standings, the play of Hayward will go far in determining how far this team can go.
Last season, Hayward showed flashes near the end of the season of being All-Star Hayward.
But as defenses tightened up on Hayward, his impact scoring-wise significantly decreased and defensively, he struggled at times keeping himself between the basket and defenders.
The 29-year-old appeared in 72 games for Boston, averaging 11.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists while averaging 25.9 minutes per game — his fewest since he averaged 16.9 minutes per game as a rookie with the Jazz.
Hayward should improve most if not all of those numbers this season, especially coming off a summer when he was able to return back to his pre-injury offseason regimen.
“That has felt really nice; being able to train how I’m used to training,” Hayward said. “Not having to worry about doing stuff for only 10 minutes, only doing a certain amount of reps. It’s been really good from that standpoint, I’ll say.”
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